While digging around in the bargain bin at my local media shop I came across a game called Darksiders. I had remembered hearing some decent press about it, the screenshots on the back of the box seemed interesting to me, and the price was right so I picked it up. When I got home and finally got around to popping it into my Xbox360 I found myself rather impressed by a title that I had thought would be an average time killer.
Darksiders doesn’t really bring anything new to the table and is filled with cliché and mechanics borrowed from a plethora of other well established games. The one game that it takes heavy inspiration from is The Legend of Zelda. After a quick action packed introduction level you are thrust into an open world where you must find hidden dungeons to find a new weapon or power up which will allow you to finish said dungeon and access different areas in the open world. At the end of each puzzle and combat filled dungeon there is a boss battle where you often must use whichever new item that was discovered in the dungeon to defeat and after the big monster is dead, you get a full green skull(Darksiders equivalent to a full heart container from Zelda). You can also explore the open area for skull fragments(heart container pieces) and wrath shards(magic power pieces). There is the Crossblade and the Abyssal Chain, the boomerang and hookshot, and other various other weaponry strikingly similar to Zelda.
While it’s quite apparent the developers have an apparent love for The Legend of Zelda, you can also see that there were parts of that game that they weren’t a fan of. First up is the platforming mechanic of the game which runs strikingly similar to Prince of Persia. The second pulls inspiration from God of War. The combat, while still similar to Zelda‘s “Z-targeting” approach, is made more visceral and deep with combos you can purchase with experience points gained from defeating enemies and use to unleash bloody rage upon your foes.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Darksiders, isn’t a complete clone of all the aforementioned games. It takes all the mechanics and puts a nice refreshing coat of paint on them. That paint starts with its narrative. You play as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, War. As the game starts off War thrusts to Earth to bring judgement and start the Apocalypse. Very soon you learn that Heaven nor Hell broke the seal which would initiate the Apocalypse and War is to be punished for attacking prematurely and breaking the seal. The Charred Council, an intermediary group, accepts War’s plea for a chance to clear his name and prove that he was set up and also bring balance back to Earth and sends him on his way with a safeguard named The Watcher. The Watcher(brilliantly voiced by Luke Skywalker, err, Mark Hamill) is to keep an eye on War and make sure he doesn’t stray from his mission. And from there the story begins about a century after the original events had taken place.
I don’t think you will ever find a narrative like that in any Zelda game. What also sets it apart is its art style. The characters and landscapes resemble something out of a comic book, and rightfully so. Joe Madureira, most know for his work with Marvel Comics on the Uncanny X-Men, takes the helm as Darksiders art director. He brings the different characters to life with his original style and creates visually pleasing lush landscapes and detailed dark, drab, and dangerous dungeons. For example, the games main character War has quite a cliché and stoic personality, without a good design behind him we wouldn’t want to traverse dangerous lands eviscerating demons. But since his design is so well done and counterbalances his personality so well you enjoy playing as him and look forward to ripping the wings of the next flying demon that passes your way or letting him survive a treacherous leap over a lava spurting trench.
While the world is in post-apocalyptic ruin, the art design team realized that post-apocalyptic doesn’t mean a brown and grey color pallet(sorry Fallout :( ). There are green and lush ruins of collapsed buildings, orange and red color saturated dry deserts, and castles filled with colorful stained glass and interesting architectural design. I hope other art teams take note of Darksiders art style and make a games in a post-apocalyptic world fun to look at as well as play.
The sound in this game is also top notch. The voice acting is done wonderfully and the performances are believable and at times very humorous(Scottish accents will always make me laugh, am I one of the few people who thought Braveheart was a comedy?lol), especially Luke Skywalker’s role and Phil LaMarr as the demon merchant Vulgrim. The music is haunting and majestic and also epic when the times for it call. The sound effects were the only problem I had within the sound design. Not because they sounded bad, but because they were too loud(think the compression wars with Metallica) and while in battle the loudness of War’s sword clashing into enemies overpowered all the other sounds that were surrounding it. The game does allow you to adjust the sound settings to your preference, but by turning it down the sound effects to reduce the noise of War’s clashing sword also turned down the other effects I was trying to hear. But in the end, that is hardly a game changer.
The only other complaint I had with this game was the beginning of the third act seemed a bit long-winded and considerably slowed down an excellently paced game. And within that beginning of the third act, you are given a portal gun, which got me very excited to see what could be done with portals outside of a Valve game. Unfortunately the puzzles in which you use the portal gun were nowhere near as cool or inventive as using the gun in Portal and just ended up becoming tedious. But I did see a start to with the proper honing could really become a really awesome mechanic in action/adventure games. Time will tell(please time, make the portals in games awesome!!).
In the end, I had a blast playing through Darksiders and recommend picking it up if you come across it. You get plenty of content, roughly 20 hours of gameplay(which can be dramatically extended if you like to explore for hidden power-ups and collectables), an interesting story, dragons and horses to ride, varied gameplay, and a beautiful world to explore. Even though the game borrows heavily from The Legend of Zelda(a series I happen to love) it uses the borrowed mechanics in a wonderful way and feels more like people trying to expand on a given formula and expand on said formula they do in spades. The ending does leave a huge room open for a sequel and I will be definitely picking it up if it ever gets made.
And I ask of all publishers to do as THQ has and take a chance on new IP’s, not all of us out there want to play reiterations of the same game(looking at you COD and Halo), and I love when a new and original games and characters come out, and I’m sure other gamers do too(Nintendo can be excused from this rant, keep reinventing Mario and Zelda Big N, it’s quite alright). The downloadable market has proven this and while a new IP may not sell like hotcakes right out the door, over time the game will make money, like Darksiders has. Hats off to THQ for picking up and releasing this game!